Stand Up for Asian Americans and Lead Students in the Fight Against Racism
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (March 19, 2021) – Amidst the difficulties of the past 12 months, it’s not easy for a single day to stand out. More than half-a-million Americans have died from COVID-19 in the last year. Yet, even against that grim backdrop, the death of eight Americans on March 16 will remain etched in our memory. These victims fell not to a dreaded virus but to the persistent disease of racism that afflicts our country. They were killed in cold blood and targeted because of their ethnicity and their gender.
Tuesday’s murders were only the latest and most tragic example of escalating violence against Asian Americans. Each day brings new reports of Asians Americans being harassed, assaulted and murdered. I would call these crimes senseless, but that would imply there is no reason or explanation, when in fact, the motivation is clear. Americans of Asian descent are being “othered,” targeted and scapegoated because of their race in a way that devastates the Asian American community and undermines the principles of liberty, equality and basic humanity.
I know that school boards and school staff are overwhelmed right now. It may seem there is room for little else but the work needed to reopen schools for in-person instruction. To that, I would respond that teaching our kids to be good citizens and to uphold the principles of equality and respect for people of all backgrounds is core to the work of public schools. We must prepare students not only for academic and career success, but also for success in personal and civic life. If we cannot do that, then we have failed in our mission. We have an opportunity and an obligation to seize this terrible moment for our country and use it to shape a better future. That can only happen if E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One,” is more than a motto on the back of the dollar bill. It should be a guiding principle in public schools, the institution designed to give every American a chance and help every student reach their potential.
The battle against racism is older than America itself and schools cannot win it alone. We can, however, play a decisive role in creating conditions of inclusion and respect on our campuses and root out discrimination wherever it occurs. We need to reexamine and reinforce our commitment to positive school cultures, anti-bullying, restorative justice and how the study and appreciation of the many cultures that form the American fabric contributes to a richer, safer and more respectful society. This is especially important where the Asian American community is concerned. We must avoid the “model minority” trap and the related tendency to overlook or undervalue the circumstances of Asian American children merely because this student group — on the whole — demonstrates high academic achievement. We must be bold allies in this particular moment not only for the sake of Asian Americans — although that is the most immediate and important consideration — but also for the sake of the American project as we try to forge a union that lives up to our country’s stated values.
The legacy of Asian American discrimination is long and particularly poignant here in California. It stretches back to the 1850s, when Chinese laborers were recruited to work in and around gold mines, and subjected to violence, exorbitant taxation and inhumane conditions. It continued in the late-19th century with the Chinese Exclusion Act and extended into the early-20th century with the colonization of the Philippines and rampant discrimination against Filipino farmworkers in California, including signs that read “No dogs and no Filipinos.” Then, in World War II, the internment of Japanese Americans and confiscation of their property left one of the deepest stains on America’s legacy. Today, this hatred has found the new and repugnant form of violence. It is our responsibility to ensure that students understand the history and impact of discrimination against Americans of Asian descent, as well as the profound contributions Asian Americans have made to this country. Even more than that, we must set an example of acceptance and make it clear that prejudice in our schools will not be tolerated.
I’m proud to say that last year, CSBA and the Association of California Administrators (ACSA) formed a joint anti-racism taskforce in an effort to create school communities that stamp out racism and offer the culture, instruction, programs and resources needed for every student’s safety as well as their academic, personal and social growth. As education leaders, I urge you to stand up for your Asian American students, fight for basic human decency and help defeat hate. Actions speak louder than words, but words can be a start, so I hope your board will consider approving this resolution to condemn violence and harassment toward Asian Americans and pledge to build school cultures that are fully supportive of students of Asian descent.
California School Boards Association (CSBA)
CSBA is a nonprofit association representing nearly 1,000 PreK-12 school districts
and county offices of education throughout California.